Hit & Run: It's crunch time for the Blairs

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The Independent Online

One of the problems with owning a Grade I listed building is that when you burn your toast, the fire brigade is automatically alerted. It's something Cherie and Tony Blair learned on Saturday to their peril, when two Buckinghamshire fire crews were called to their Wotton Underwood home after a breakfast-time toasting session went up in smoke. Perhaps the Blairs need to invest in an up-to-the-minute luxury toaster, such as one of the three we've chosen, below. Those after-dinner speaking engagements have got to be worth something, after all.

Magimix Vision, £160, Magimix.com

The world's first see-through toaster allows you to check up in real time on the browning progress of your muffin, bagel or slice of white. Perfect for politicos with one eye on BBC Breakfast and the other on their actual breakfast.

Bugatti Volo toaster, £169, Harrods.com

This handles like a dream – a motorised lift system, warm-up facility, and the height of both French and Italian style – all sitting on your worktop. You can also toast bagels to fuel those speech-writing all-nighters.

Dualit DCT1 conveyor toaster, £705, Dualit.com

Can produce a bread-tastic 250 crisp slices an hour. Also useful for shoring up one's environmental credentials – its stand-by mode can save up to 75 per cent of the machine's power consumption. Rob Sharp

Not under their roof

A rainy night in Prince George, a forlorn corner of British Columbia. I didn't intend to go there, but a fire aboard an Alaska-bound ferry threw my plans into disarray. As a holder of the currency that means humiliation abroad – ie pounds sterling – I needed somewhere cheap to stay. Cheerful, too, ideally; but every tolerant traveller knows that bed-and-breakfast is always an unknown quantity.

The fuss about whether landladies should be able to turn away a gay or lesbian couple was the lead story for many broadcasters on Sunday, after the Shadow Home Secretary had been secretly recorded. Yet Chris Grayling was not offering to sell political favours, but merely opining that B&B proprietors should be able to indulge their prejudices. While I would fight for the right of anyone to claim shelter in a hostel or hotel, regardless of their sexual orientation, B&Bs are different. When someone opens up their home and offers a sometimes-uncomfortable intimacy in exchange for a modest payment, you tacitly accept all their peccadillos and prejudices – from flying ducks to Toilet Duck. In return for the prospect of rest, refreshment and an insight into how others live, you run the risk of being deemed an unwelcome guest.

As it turned out in Prince George, my host, Stuart, was a fascinating guy who would not have batted an eyelid if I had turned up, say, clad all in rubber with an assortment of what used quaintly to be known as marital aids. Once an undercover cop (the clue was in the property's name, "Mountie's Rest"), Stuart regaled me with stories of life on the rough edges of normally civilised Canada.

Across on the other side of that great country, I had an entirely opposite experience: in Hamilton, Ontario, I could almost hear the "tut, tut" as I walked scruffily up the drive. Breakfast was at, not from, 8am, and my request for a shower earned a glare that read "Are you trying to bankrupt me?"

The vast majority of B&Bs are run by hard-working women and men who try to deliver a good service. I had the fortune last month to attend a gathering of Irish B&B owners in Dublin: a fascinating bunch of individuals, who offer guests options ranging from vegan cooking to free international phone calls on Skype. But wherever you are in the world, an untested B&B is an exercise in serendipity. Usually, everyone benefits.

But sometimes, you are buying into sheer eccentricity, and that includes the chance that your host may not like the cut of your jib nor your sexual orientation. Simon Calder